The Lord President of the Council is the fourth of the Great Officers of State of the United Kingdom, ranking below the Lord High Treasurer but above the Lord Privy Seal. The Lord President usually attends and is responsible for presiding over meetings of the Privy Council, presenting business for the monarch's approval. In the modern era, the holder is by convention always a member of one of the Houses of Parliament, and the office is normally a Cabinet post.
The office and its history
The Privy Council meets once a month, wherever the sovereign may be residing at the time, to give formal approval to Orders in Council. Only a few privy counsellors need attend such meetings, and only when invited to do so at the government's request. As the duties of the Lord President are not onerous, the post has often been given to a government minister whose responsibilities are not department-specific. In recent years it has been most typical for the Lord President also to serve as Leader of the House of Commons or Leader of the House of Lords. The Lord President has no role in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Unlike some of the other Great Officers of State, the office of Lord President is not very ancient (relative to the over 1,000-year history of government in the British Isles), the first certain appointment to the office being that of the Duke of Suffolk in 1529. (Although there is a reference to Edmund Dudley serving as 'president of the council' in 1497, it was only in 1529 that the role was given the style and precedence of a Great Officer of State by Act of Parliament (An Act that the President of the King's Counsel shall be associate with the Chancellor and Treasurer of England, and the Keeper of the King's Privy Seal).) Prior to 1679 there were several periods in which the office was left vacant.
In the 19th century, the Lord President was generally the cabinet member responsible for the education system, amongst their other duties. This role was gradually scaled back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but remnants of it remain, such as the oversight of the governance of various universities.
During times of National or coalition government the office of Lord President has sometimes been held by the leader of a minority party (e.g. Baldwin 1931-1935, MacDonald 1935-1937, Attlee 1943-1945, Clegg 2010-2015).
A particularly vital role was played by the Lord President of the Council during the Second World War. The Lord President served as chairman of the Lord President's Committee. This committee acted as a central clearing house which dealt with the country's economic problems. This was vital to the smooth running of the British war economy and consequently the entire British war effort.
Winston Churchill, clearly believing that this wartime co-ordinating role was beneficial, introduced a similar but expanded system in the first few years of his post-war premiership. The so-called 'overlord ministers' included Frederick Leathers as 'Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power' and Lord Woolton as Lord President. Woolton's job was to co-ordinate the then separate ministries of agriculture and food. The historian Peter Hennessy quotes a PhD thesis by Michael Kandiah saying that Woolton was 'arguably the most successful of the Overlords' partly because his ministries were quite closely related; indeed, they were merged in 1955 as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
On several occasions since 1954, non-British Ministers have served briefly as acting Lords President of the Council, solely to preside over a meeting of the Privy Council held in a Commonwealth realm. Examples of this practice are the meetings in New Zealand in 1990 and 1995, when Geoffrey Palmer and James Bolger respectively were acting Lords President.
Before the 2010 United Kingdom general election, the Lord President was Peter Mandelson, who was also First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. This was the first time that the Lord President had not been a leader of one of the two Houses since the period 20 October 1963 to 16 October 1964, when Quintin Hogg (2nd Viscount Hailsham until November 1963), after resigning his post as Leader of the House of Lords, held the office along with the offices of Minister for Sport and, from 1 April 1964, also of Secretary of State for Education and Science.
- University of Birmingham
- University of Bristol
- University of Hull
- Imperial College London
- Keele University
- University of Leeds
- University of Leicester
- University of Liverpool
- University of London (but not King's College London or University College London)
- University of Nottingham
- University of Reading
- University of Sheffield
- University of Southampton
- University of Sussex
Partial list of Lords President of the Council